"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Will Hodgkinson's "The Ballad of Britain"

Will Hodgkinson is currently my favorite music writer. I am a mega-fan of his "Guitar Man" and "Song Man." In this new book he travels around Britain to record traditional British folk music and its living artists. And like his other books, Hodgkinson is the main character in the narrative who sort of bumbles along his travels to reach his goal. So in many ways this is also a travel journal as well as a study on contemporary British folk. And its not a history book, but more of a journal of an on-going investigation of what is Folk Music and what it is in contemporary Britain. 

A man of great charm and wit, he sets himself up as an everyman, but his ambition sets him as someone special in my eyes. Enjoyable travel with interesting music on the side.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fantomas My Love (in honor of the Fantomas DVD)

Fantomas, My Love

Book Soup just received the first official release of the great (and masterful) Louis Feuillade's version of the pulp and literary "Fantomas."  Five chapters and all exceptional.  Down below is an essay (very personal one at that) on the film and the Fantomas books as well.

I wrote this little essay on one of my favorite films: Louis Feuillade's "Fantomas." The DVD came out in France as well as in the U.K. I strongly recommend that you, the dear reader, pick up a copy. It's an amazing film in so many ways. Anyway I want to thank Alt X for first publishing this essay on their website. I got a lot of feedback and coverage due to them publishing it. Thank you.

Fantomas, My Love

by Tosh Berman
(c) 1995

The Surrealist Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel had transmitted that he to a great extent, preferred Louis Feuillade's Fantomas serial to any of the so-called avant-garde films made at the same interval during the early Twentieth Century. Bunuel perceived the serial as an art form without the useless baggage of art attached to it.

French filmmaker Alain Resnais was quoted as saying "Feuillade is my god. I had always been a fan of the Fantomas dime thriller novels, but when I finally saw the films at the Cinematheque in 1944, I learned from him how the fantastic could be more easily and effectively created in a natural exterior than in a studio. Feuillade's cinema is very close to dreams and is therefore perhaps the most realistic kind of all, paradoxical as this may sound."

This infatuation for the physical with an additional mixture of dreams illuminates the Surrealists love for Louis Feuillade and his cinematic version of Fantomas (1913-1914). Feuillade's blend of natural exteriors and interiors with the dreamlike conspiracies comprise an inner--world, where anything can happen at any place. What seems to be the axiom is usually just an illusion. Images which seem so natural are truthfully revelations that are disturbing to the subconscious.

Ever since my father's unexpected death in a car accident, non-reality and what I feel is fundamental has become an overheated tango dance. Persons who were close friends become strangers in a matter of hours. The world has changed positions by just one incident. When I saw one segment of the five-part serial, "Juve Contre Fantomas," the film had expressed my horror and fascination with images and people, and how they can mutate mysteriously into another disguise.

The fictional character of Fantomas represents the sleeping evil which rests in our subconscious, ready to strike at a moment's notice. Obviously whenever there is a misdeed somewhere on this world, Fantomas is behind the hideous crime. A majority of the public is not aware of this fact, except for the brilliant detective from the Paris police, Juve. Only he alone can stop evil, better known in his human form as Fantomas! As a master detective, Juve recognizes that Fantomas attacks from within: meaning he detects that Fantomas exists inside the subconscious -- particularly Juve's.

Here we find the eternal theme of two brilliant (and in most cases, indifferent from the rest of society) individuals fighting for the control of...actually control itself. Good and Evil sleeping together in a bed made for sexual passion and when it manifests itself into politics - the World explodes!

In the film series and books by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantomas' victims are usually people in high society. There is an undercurrent cast of political terrorism in Fantomas' methods - kidnapping, pillaging, and killing members of the upper-class. The subject of control is very strong in the series, and the question that repeatedly comes up is: who is in supremacy, Juve (good) or Fantomas (evil)?

One wonders if Feuillade's version of Fantomas is not a politically motivated. One furthermore imagines why Fantomas and his gang only rob and murder victims placed in high society. Fantomas does not seem to be a man (spirit?) involved with politics of thought, but politics of consciousness. Fantomas steals and kills - therefore he exists!

For all we know his victims may be the living dead; perhaps only the brilliance of police inspector Juve and Fantomas can endure and the flesh (which Fantomas and Juve discard like old clothes, when in disguise) is an illusion when placed in a "real" ambiance.

Feuillade played with the real and unreal in natural settings in all of his serials. The Surrealists were the first ones to notice this quality in his work, and afterward, an even stronger influence appeared in the French new-wave films by Godard, Franju, and Resnais. There is a joy of illogical happenings in his films, which only a handful of filmmakers play with. Bunuel and Godard also show us that logic becomes boring after a while.

In writing about the Fantomas texts, the magnificent poet and critic of the nineteen-teens, Guillaume Apollinaire has been quoted as saying "that extraordinary novel, full of life and imagination...from the imaginative standpoint, Fantomas is one of the richest works that exist." The wild and characteristic vision of Surrealism which is in the novel and films were highly appreciated by the artists of that time. Besides Apollinaire, there were the poets Robert Desnos, Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Blaise Cendrars; the painters Picasso, Juan Gris, and Magritte. All of them were fans who used the resource that is Fantomas, for their own work.

Juan Gris; "Fantomas (Pipe and Newspaper) 1915. Oil on Canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

All of these artists realized the dreamlike, irrational qualities of the Fantomas (film and book) series. Not the paint-by-numbers school of art that is currently being produced in a laboratory known as a classroom, but in that mysterious interval when the conscious becomes the subconscious. As art works are being hatched in this phantom transition, so are in a sense - the crimes of Fantomas.

Magritte with his "Fantomas" painting

There is a dauntless wild abandon when entangled with crime and art. The mad impulse to move from the so-called norm into another realm - is of course, an intoxicating act of creation. In this atmosphere, Fantomas is just as creative and mad as Antonin Artaud and Marquis de Sade. Both of these artists investigated their imagination and sanity to compose a weapon with words so as to antagonize society. Fantomas is a liteary creation used for the same purpose. Intentionally, the Fantomas film and books were produced only for amusement sake, but there are unmistakably undercurrents of dread, fear, anxiety, and perverse sexuality.

In Juve Contre Fantomas there are scenes which allude to bondage and S&M. In one particular scene Juve establishes a trap for Fantomas in his apartment. To protect himself from the assassin, Juve wears a truly bizarre garment consisting of spikes around his waist and arms. He then lingers for him in his own bed.

Fantomas also has a Rasputin charm over women. In one scene he is entertaining a pair of women at a posh restaurant. He also "dominates" a young lady, who is totally devoted to him and his cause. Another female is a love slave, awaiting at a large house for her master (usually in disguise) to appear. On the other hand, Juve seems to have no time for pleasure. His only passion is to catch Fantomas...And as I mentioned earlier, perhaps Juve wants to restrain Fantomas in his own bed!

The nature or lack of character is interesting, in that the "sexual" quality of Fantomas becomes stronger owing to the scarcity of a concrete identity. He is a master of disguises because of his line of work, but one wonder if this is not tied to his sexual identity. Each character he portrays is draped in fetishism. Juve is also a master of disguises, and likewise savors the changes his body makes.

Watching the film one sees a duel to make and relinquish as many identities as possible. In the beginning montage of Juve Contre Fantomas, each character (Juve & Fantomas) displays all the disguises that they will wear in the film. By the end of the film one sees identity being adjusted as simply as changing a soiled shirt. In most modern works of art, the need of identity or conscience is a source for the "lost man or woman." One thinks of Oscar Wilde's "Portrait of Doran Gray" or Luigi Pirandello's underrated novel, "The Late Mattia Pascal" which depicts the fall of one who is seduced into the conflict of good and evil. On the other hand, Feuillade/Fantomas relishes the chance to throw conscience out the window. The film is exhilarating in its love for anarchy, bondage, perverse sexuality, political consciousness and, more importantly, aesthetic revolution. Unintentionally, (which is the main ingredient for art-making) the film and novel are an inventive terrorist attack on the fear and mores of the bourgeoisie.

During the actual filming, Feuillade never used a shooting script. Andre Bazin - the film critic and theorist - wrote that "Feuillade had no idea what would happen next, and filmed step-by-step as the morning's inspiration came." The early pioneers of cinema all worked this way; it was not till the studios insisted on ideas put on paper for financial verification that things changed. Currently, Jean Luc-Godard is perhaps the only mainstream filmmaker who does not use a script, while shooting a film.

This also suggests that early cinema-making was a Surrealist technique in making art. Along with Feuillade, one thinks of the other "native" Surrealists such as Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton. Although their works were dissimilar, they contributed a suspicion on what is real and does it matter. It was not important to them to show "logic" moving from one scene to another. The early filmmakers shared a common dream occurrence where anything was allowed.

In the conclusion of "Juve Contre Fantomas" there is the magnificent image of Fantomas, dressed fully in black with a hood over his face, raising his arms in characteristic joy as he explodes the house with what he thinks is Juve still inside the structure. This is a spectacular moment and one wonders how many in the audience are thrilled with this commitment to artistic destruction? In certainty, since this was the end of the second segment out of five in the series, it ends with a large question mark (?) on the screen. This of course may center on what will happen in the ensuing segment...or is it a straightforward question to the conscientiousness of the public out there watching the film?


Tosh Talks Dec.20.2010

"Tosh Talks" about William Eggleston and David Lynch

Monday, December 20, 2010

Richard Stark's "Deadly Edge"

I am trying to review each Parker novel by Richard Stark as a separate entity, but alas, to me it is one big huge novel. Like Proust! One pretty much knows that each and every one of the Parker novels is a page-turner. I read a lot of his novels on the bus and almost consistently I miss my stop, due that my every sense is tied into the narrative. 
This one is slightly unusual, because the first part of the book is the heist of a rock n' roll show. Its 40 or so pages (which is a mega-section in Parker theme novel) of the actual robbery. But then afterwards someone is killing off the gang. And the violence in this novel is harsh and ugly. 
The beauty of the novel is how Parker reacts to the dangers he face. Which of course, is being totally professional and looking at the problem on a total technical level. "A" is killing each heist gang member, therefore I Parker must do this or not do this. And part of the fun is seeing a criminal mind against another criminal mind. Parker is not a sadist, but he is a cold blooded killer. His instinct is to survive. And this is in many ways a perfect crime novel.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thomas Bernhard's "My Prizes: An Accounting"

What one considers to be the greatest writer in the German language and here he is pooping on all the major (and not minor) prizes in Austria he had won. The total distain, and moments of clear thinking, with a touching tribute of sorts to an old professor of his - is quite entertaining. 
The beauty (if one can call it that) is his clear vision of a silly world getting sillier. Cynical on a hysterical level, he is also a writer where you can feel the weather and the moment of his narrative. His detail observation on clothing he chose for particular award presentations is humorous, especially with his Aunt being his companion on his many adventures to the stage to receive one award or another. 
And it is fascinating how he sees the awards system as just another crazy wrench in the system. The book is a small and compact version of one man's hell. But for the reader (and I suspect Bernhard) a great adventure in the nutty world of prize giving.

Friday, December 17, 2010

William Eggleston's "For Now"

A beauty of a book on so many (dreamy) levels. The color of his images are the first things that hit you when you open his book, but the the composition of the pictures are the one's that really gives it a narrative of sorts. And one is never sure how important it is to know Eggleston's life or that he came from the South. I think he treats all objects (people as well as even a coke bottle) is equally important in front of his camera. Some of the images are funny, some also has a tinge of some sort of mystical danger that can't be easily explained, but it is just a feeling that's out there. And that can be the viewer's imagination working over time. Nevertheless, I find the people that he photographs incredibly interesting. The women are beautiful, the kids (mostly his) are elegant, and the men are eccentric with twists of charm and mystery. Michael Almerlyda made the selections for this book. His take on his choices that these images are the B-Sides to the more well-known photographs of Eggleston. i like that thought, and it is also interesting that Eggleston is a piano player as well as a friend of Alex Chilton's parents - in fact I discovered Eggleston's work via Big Star 2 album. The book also has a great piece by Grail Marcus and Kristine McKenna's interview with Eggleston. Essential photo book plus more

"Correspondence" by Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris (Translated by Liz Heron)

A very interesting book that is not only a selected correspondence between the titans of kink and intellectual thought - Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris - but also some memoir writing from each writer about the other - in a sense. Bataille's journal is more personal and emotionally forward - where Leiris is cool and kind of logical. 

But the beauty of the book is the history of their friendship. In the 30's there were issues that looks like it will tear their relationship apart - but over time, it seemed to be forgotten. One of many many arguments and counter-arguments in the world of Andre Breton and his Surrealist group. 

And again, the book is not a straight ahead collection of letters between the two writers, there is also a very thoughtful afterword by Bernard Noel as well as countless footnotes focusing on various (some obscure) names that come in their correspondence. Well-researched and of course totally fascinating look into the passionate viewpoints of Bataille and Leiris.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tosh Talks Dec. 13. 2010

"Tosh Talks" about London Books Classic and Albert Cossery. Fun!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seasons of Reading

Let's be honest. Los Angeles does not experience winter. (My east coast loved ones insist I will tire of this glorious clime - not so, say I!) We have a special handful of books, in affordable paperback, set up to fix your craving for real winter or - as the case may be - real summer. Try one out!

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. If you haven't seen the Oscar-bait film yet, hold off! Read the book first. Ree Dolly quietly overhauls the odds by taking care of her mother, raising her siblings, and suffering through hell to find her father (or his remains) when the wayward patriarch skips bail - a bail paid for with all the family property. Put simply, don't do meth. Do read this incredible book.

If on a winter's night a traveler,
by Italo Calvino. Have you ever wondered what it's like to stroll through the conscious stream of a modern writer whose every quiet thought (like mine, just now, of eating peppermint Joe-Joe cookies at home tonight) makes it into a thorough line of text that will eventually lead you to some cosmic truth even if the cosmic truth is that there is none?

Blankets, by Craig Thompson. No need to be teen, not-born-again, into comics, or wrapped in the titular cloth to enjoy this book. And you'll understand just a little bit better those of us who were teen, not-born-again, into comics, and wrapped in the titular cloth at first reading! A staple.

Dubliners, by James Joyce. Read 'til you can't read no more, and get the most gratifying snowfall in western literature.

Other winter titles include Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, and Snow by recently biography-ed Orhan Pamuk.

As for summer, we have Tom Parrada's Little Children, and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I do love the bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is suitable for chilly dreamy winter nights as well!

Oh dear. Please excuse me while I apply for jobs writing tacky, cheesy blurbs to put in picture frames at CVS.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Letters of James Schuyler To Frank O'Hara

I am a fan of the little book that you can put in your pocket and it takes a day to read. And this book is the perfect design. Also it strikes me as the ultimate NYC book as well. Although James Schuyler wrote some of his letters to Frank O'Hara from Italy and other locations - it still smells like Manhattan. 

Perhaps my two favorite poets (was it something in the Manhattan water?) of that time - and although in book form the conversation is one -sided a bit (no O'Hara correspondence from his side) it does give a remarkable feel of its time in the early 1950's. Really, really nice and beautifully designed edition.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tosh Talks Dec.07.2010

"Tosh Talks" On Yves Klein and Morrissey of course.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Richard Stark's "The Seventh"

In that neat style, "The Seventh" is not only No 7 in the Parker series, but also deals with 7 crooks sharing loot 7 ways and when someone outside the system screws up - how that seven becomes meaningless...well, till the end because nothing screws up for Parker on a permanent level. 

And that is the beauty of the Parker series. It reads like oatmeal every morning and you are always happy after the meal. It is sort of the perfect airplane read but without the guilt - because these books are superb. To review them as separate titles is almost pointless, because really, they're the same novel. Parker is a man with little emotion but highly professional. He is part of a group stealing something (and that something has really no importance) and the fun of the novels is watching how the heist falls apart. In other words the heist or crime always fail on the grand picture, although Parker sometimes wins in the end. 

So the novels are about how the failure happens, who screws up, who talks to the wrong person, and how they do their business. There are few surprises in the series which is why it is almost a trust-worthy no money back sure thing that you are getting your value out of these novels. 

So yeah, its almost genius like in how Donald Westlake (Richard Stark) writes these perfect narrations on an on-going basis. But alas, he does and we the reader are thankful in a world that is falling apart - at the very least we can expect another Parker novel that will again say "things are alright in the heist world."

Sunday, December 5, 2010


THOMAS SANCHEZ'S RABBIT BOSS is one of the greatest novels ever written. Don't just take it from me, read the reviews:

Rabbit Boss is a classic that's been "Hailed as a landmark of our literature" by Vanity Fair magazine and is "A novel of epic dimensions...marked by commanding sense of place...[and] mix of politics and poetry" says the The New York Times.

"Sanchez is a man of tremendous vision" said Robert Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times.

The Times of London says, "Rabbit Boss is beautiful, poetic, powerful. Thomas Sanchez has a dominating talent."

L'Express (France) said Rabbit Boss is "A classic to rank with the Grapes of Wrath."

Where are the great filmmakers who can turn this powerful story into a screen epic to match Roots? It can be done.

Astrid Kirchherr: A Retrospective

Astrid Kirchherr, is the Hamburg photographer/artist who photographed the (very) young Beatles. Also became a lover to both Klaus Voorman and the lost legendary beauty (and Beatle) Stu Sutcliffe. He is the one who left the band for the visual arts, but died in his early 20's. 

Kirchherr made a series of haunting portraits of the men in her life, and what we have here is the social world of John, George, Paul, Pete Best, Ringo, Klaus and Stu. She also brought in the French new wave St. Germain aesthetic to the guys. in other words she opened up their Liverpool world into even a bigger world. Short, but important time was spent in Hamburg playing in various rough and tuff music clubs - and with that a mixture of high art/aesthetics were the floor plans for the Beatles aesthetic take-over of the 1960's. 

The beauty of Kirchherr's work is being in the right place, right time, and the right subjects for his image taking. But she also knows a beautiful face, and knows how to light it and presented to the world. Remarkable talent. 

This is a catalog to her retrospective that took place in Liverpool, and it is both an important document of a time past, but also the great dynamics that were happening between mainland Europe and the Liverpool scene. Essential book for the Beatle lover, but even something more....

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Donis Archive, 1964-1966

Classic never published photographs of Prime Rolling Stones during their 1964-1966 era. All images by their American tour manager at the time Bob Bonis. Not a professional photographer, yet he captured the vibe via his lens. And this is pre-dark Stones. This is The Stones when they were rockin' and the start of their brilliant music making.

Beautiful in a rough way, here's a band enjoying the life before it went insane. My favorite images in this book is of them with Jack Nitzsche the great music god and their brilliant visionarie Andrew Loog Oldham. Shot on Sunset Blvd, which at the time was the RCA building It was here where they recorded a lot of their classic 60's songs - Aftermath time. It's the last time.

"Ten Walks/Two Talks" by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Inspired by Japanese poet Basho, Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch walk Manhattan as if it was a lost world in the 21st Century. Part of it is straight observations on life as it is in New York, and the second part is a conversation between the two writers as they take their grand walk via the urban landscape. A (very) small book, but also one that is great in meditating the relationship between writer(s) and his city. Keep the senses open and enjoy this walk with our hosts Cotner and Fitch.

"Boutique London" A History: King's Road to Carnaby Street" by Richard Lester

Not an easy subject matter to find in book form, and it almost takes an obsessive (and surely I am) person to collect all things that are groovy London fashion in the height of the late 50's to the mid-1960's. Nevertheless this is a beautifully and fun design of a book regarding one of my favorite subject matters - The classic (by my term) London Boutique.

With vintage shopping maps to lead you to the shops in the Soho/Mayfair area of London to great images inside the boutique - which is actually a rare viewing, due that there is little visual records of the 1960's boutique. So this book is a must for anyone thinking of opening their own boutique or want to shoplift some ideas for the purpose of improving their retail work space.

The beauty of shops or boutiques is that they convey someone's idea of paradise. And when you put that in a retail landscape, it becomes a form of self-expression. Early Carnaby Street to me at a very young age served as sort of a Disneyland - a place that I think couldn't possibly exist. But alas, it did (past tense) and this book proves it did exist

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Richard Stark's "The Sour Lemon Score"

So far, reading a Richard Stark book is a meditative practice of being with an object that is a form of perfection.   Lean, not a word wasted, and right to the point, the main character Parker has a Zen like intensity to his mission in life - robbery. 

He also has a distate for those who don't follow the plan which is to rob and then share the loot.  "The Sour Lemon Score"" is about a loser who kills numerous people for a small amount of money and you eventually Parker will get back at this double-dealing creep in no time.  Because Parker is like a shark.  He's totally focused on getting what he agreed to get in the first place.  We the readers are interested in seeing the weak criminal get his just awards - but Parker is really only interested in getting what is owed to him  - which is a small amount of the money that was robbed in a bank.

Parker is not crazy, nor does he have a great deal of passion, but what he sees himself as is a total professional.  He takes pride in his work, yet he doesn't really judge other people.  He is only concerned about his actions in the affair.  He's loyal to a point that he will do his part in the job, but it is almost indifference when someone in the gang screws up.  That is their affair.  But for him he agreed to do crime to get a certain X amount of dollars and he won't take less then that.  If he agrees to share the loot, that is only what he wants.

Yet the greed of his criminal(s)  leads to a major downfall to their world.  Yet Parker rises over the damage and sees himself as just a worker getting what he deserves or worked for.   "The Sour Lemon Score" is another act of perfection in a world that is not perfect.